For residents of Hampstead, memories of the North Carroll Panthers don’t seem to be fading. And now, “North Carroll Panthers” won’t fade for the next two decades or so.
As they have for the past three decades, visitors driving up Md. 482 into Hampstead are still being greeted by “North Carroll Panthers” in red letters trimmed in black, at the top of what is informally known as Panther Water Tower, a 158-foot structure that holds 500,000 gallons of water — half the town’s supply — located near the old North Carroll High School, which was closed in 2016.
Town Manager Tammi Ledley said the tower won’t need to be painted again for another 18 to 20 years after the completion of the $124,000 project.
The tower went back into use Wednesday morning, having been offline since April 4 for cleaning and repainting and then testing, according to Kevin Hann, Hampstead’s superintendent of public works.
There was never a question the tower would be refilled and back online as soon as the weather cooperated and the project could be completed. There was, however, at least some question as to whether it would still read “North Carroll Panthers.”
Ledley said that when the project went out for bids, the lettering of the old high school and its mascot was a line item and there was a possibility it would have to be taken out if it became apparent the total cost of the project would be too much.
“But it was a no-brainer when the quote came back,” Hann said.
It helped a lot that a person from Westminster donated the red and black paint. Ledley declined to name the donor, noting that it was someone who didn’t graduate from North Carroll High but was unhappy with the circumstances that led to the school’s closing.
The community, she said, clearly wanted “North Carroll Panthers” to remain a conspicuous part of the town.
“I know people don’t understand,” Ledley said, “but this high school and all its activities are part of Hampstead’s history, a central part of our town. People were very sad when it was closed.”
Since then, she said, Hampstead Municipal Park was renamed Hampstead Panther Park, and all the equipment is now red and black — the old school colors. Additionally, she said, everyone is still hoping the former, largely unused school building can one day be utilized in a way that it is again an important part of the community.
Hann, a Hampstead native and a 1988 North Carroll graduate, said he was in high school when they began raising funds to paint “North Carroll Panthers” on the tower in the first place, and he’s glad those words remain.
“North Carroll High School had a lot of history, and it was very nice we were able to afford putting it back up,” Hann said. “It keeps the legacy alive.”
In fact, he said, the words are brighter than ever thanks to the strides made since the last paint job — 11 years ago — that have made paint more resistant to the elements, such as the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
The old lettering, and the paint covering the entire tower, had faded badly.
“That’s the part of our water system the public sees every day. People don’t see the pipes or the pumphouses,” Hann said. “It’s nice to see it spruced up a little. It needed it.”
Panther Water Tower had to be drained, cleaned thoroughly inside, have a hatch replaced, be repainted, be refilled and then have samples sent out for extensive testing by the Maryland Department of the Environment before it could go back into use. With roughly half the town’s water supply unavailable, it meant turning to other sources such as wells to compensate, Hann said.
“It’s no big deal,” he said. “Most people wouldn’t have even noticed.”
Probably so. Painting over “North Carroll Panthers,” however, that they would’ve noticed.